CLOSE-IN: Legends are blessed, but one needs the ‘Hand of God’ too (IANS Column)

Sports lovers around the world were in a state of stunned silence in anticipation of the outcome. The reason is that the football World Cup ’22 final between Argentina and France had gone into penalty kicks. The question was whether the superstar and living legend of Argentina, Lionel Messi, after 16 years of participating in it, would finally lift the famous FIFA World Cup. This, as most felt, would be his last attempt to win the cup.

The phrase “Hand of God” made famous by Diego Maradona, in what is termed in a very loose way, somehow always seems to find itself blessing the legends of the sport. Messi, the champion footballer, was the one to receive it when most required at this World Cup. Argentina was one of the favourite sides not only because of the way they play the game of football but also because one wished Messi to win it for his immense contribution to the sport.

They did so in splendid style and richly deserved it.

Argentina’s success was a good example of the uncertainty that sports bring to the table. The football world was shocked when they lost their opening match of the World Cup to Saudi Arabia. Argentina, thereafter, needed to win both their matches to qualify. However, the loss put a shadow of doubt on their ability. Champions, they say, revel when the chips are down. Messi did so in his team’s progress after the initial defeat. It seemed he took the onus on himself and his magical skills came forth in every game they played thereafter.

Memories of the feats achieved by legends are what keep sports alive. The achievements of Jesse Owens in athletics in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Don Bradman’s unbeatable batting record in cricket, Dhyan Chand’s incredible mastery in hockey, and Pele and Maradona’s breath-taking performances in football are some timeless moments of greatness etched in sports history.

Legends such as Messi, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, LeBron James and several others, in their respective sports, evoked the emotion that everyone around them wanted them to do well. The interesting part is that these great individuals break through one’s personal or loyalty barriers. Their performances are marvelled at and one wants them to achieve the highest echelon possible.

The words of Albert Einstein come to one’s mind, “a genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work”. This has been, thereafter, used to measure success as well. One still questions this saying, as, most of the individual world-class sportsmen have the talent and put in the hard work too. But, just a few seem to go beyond it. God definitely has that blessed percentage in hand. ‘Luck’ is what one associates it with, but as one says very commonly that ” one makes one’s own luck”.

Indian cricket too has had such memorable moments. The last being, India’s World Cup win in 2011. Sachin Tendulkar, after two decades of playing the game and on his 5th attempt to be a part of a World Cup-winning side, finally achieved his dream. The Indian fans were not only elated by the country’s win but also thought it a fitting tribute to a man who had done yeomen service to Indian cricket.

The celebrations that one saw on the Argentina team’s return to Buenos Aires reminded one of three such moments in Indian cricket.

The 1st was on the return of the 1971 side, who under the leadership of Ajit Wadekar, won the 1st Test series win against England in England. This they achieved after winning a series against the West Indies as well. The motorcade welcome followed by a red carpet and full house at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai was a sight to savour. The win at the Oval in London was achieved on the auspicious day of Ganesh Chaturthi. The Gods, as one said, were with India.

The 2nd massive celebration was when India, the rank outsiders, beat the West Indies in 1983 to win the Cricket World Cup at Lords in England. The bunch of cricketers led by Kapil Dev were received, both in Delhi and Mumbai, with such an abundance of splendour that one just cried with joy. The victory was a god-sent special moment for Indian cricket. To dethrone, the unconquerable West Indian side and lift the crown seemed to be like a victory of David over Goliath.

The last and 3rd occasion one celebrated a glorious victory in India was when Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit his customary ‘helicopter shot’ for a six to win the 2011 World Cup. India were the favourites to win and to do so one felt was a blessing in disguise.

Since then, India has had individual success in several of sports, however, team success has eluded them.

India will be hosting the Cricket World Cup in the latter part of 2023. This one feels will be the farewell to arms for two Indian cricket legends, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Both have brought joy to the millions of Indian fans from the day they stepped onto the cricket field to play for their country.

India, winning the Cup would be just the ideal way to bid them adieu. The Hand of God is all they require to do so.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)

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